Gaza Flotilla Foiled: Pro-Palestinians Attempt 'Flightilla'
Perhaps the timing is a coincidence, but it appears that after several foiled attempts by the Audacity of Hope, along with others who wanted to join the Freedom Flotilla's efforts to breach the Israeli coastal blockade of Gaza, pro-Palestinians have devised a new plan. In light of Greece preventing their sea bound departure, hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists have organized flights to the West Bank that would take them into Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport beginning the evening of Thursday, July 7. But, the organizers deny the connection to the 2nd Gaza Flotilla claiming they are participating in an event called "Welcome Palestine."
"Welcome Palestine," dubbed "aerial flotilla"or "flightilla" by some, is a new tactic that has gotten a great deal of attention from the Israeli government and their police agencies. The airport strategy is supported by 40 Palestinian NGO's with members who are hoping to get on their flights, land in Ben-Gurion Airport and, when questioned as all arrivals are by Israeli custom officers, would explain that they have come to visit Palestine for a week's activities in support of a Palestinian state.
However, if they are prevented from embarking on their flights or deported once they arrive, the plan is to become a public spectacle. They believe the image of hundreds of activists put in this situation would symbolize the limits to freedom of movement and access to and from the West Bank that Palestinians and pro-Palestinians face.
Earlier in the week, three people whose names were on a no-entry list were denied entry into Israel, but it is not known if they are connected to this aerial flotilla. By Tuesday, Israeli police had finished their plans to try to stop some 700 activists who have already purchased tickets for this Friday's arrival into Ben-Gurion. Police have admitted that they are unable to take preemptive flight bans against some activists whose names are not on any watch list enabling them to be able to land in Israel.
On Wednesday, July 6, Prime Minister Netanyahu met with police Commissioner Inspector-General Danino and representatives of the Interior Ministry at the airport. Extra security forces had been sent to the airport, especially in and around the international Terminal 3 where most of the expected activists are coming in from Europe.
Commander Dentsi Sao, head of the Central Police in the airport's district warned that anyone found "disrupting the peace, or attacking police or other officials" will be arrested. "We are aware that the whole point of the protesters is to create a media buzz aimed at embarrassing the State of Israel... We know they cannot arrive with weapons [but believe] they will try to create provocations." Sao added: "that his officers had been ordered to act with restraint."
On Thursday morning, the French government cautioned their citizens against joining the "Welcome to Palestine" event. In keeping with this warning, seven pro-Palestinian activists were removed from a Hungarian Malev Airlines flight departing Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris for Tel Aviv, on the request of the Israeli government. France's Foreign Minister Bernard Valero said that: "France is worried by the risk of incidents and clashes that could develop at Tel Aviv airport on Friday." In addition, by preventing these passengers from boarding the flight, they would not have the responsibility of flying them back to their homes if Israel deports them.
By Thursday evening, the Israeli police were able to decrease security at the airport believing that over 300 activists have been blacklisted and prevented from boarding their flights.
In contradiction to Israel's claim of provocation and their actions against innocent travelers, the organizers of this event have already begun spinning the story. They have put out a press release that criticizes the Israeli government for "overacting" and "acting hysterically" in preparation for the expected arrival of hundreds of protestors on several different flights over the next several days.
Spokesman Adam Keller of the Gush Shalom Movement, organizers of "Welcome to Palestine," sent a rebuttal press release to Yitzhak Aharonovitch, Israel's Public Security Minister. Keller claims: "This is in reality a plan by peace activists to visit the homes of Palestinian families, called "Welcome to Palestine... Whole families will take part: women, men and children." Their press release also stated that the reports of activists as "provocateurs" is inaccurate and a distortion of their message and activities. "We also reject the Israeli government threat to engage in mass deportation of peace activists, and the apparent attempt to justify this unjustifiable action by using rumors that they spread."
Whether the Gaza Flotilla and the Welcome to Palestine are connected, Prime Minister Netanyahu has clear justification for his actions against this onslaught of peaceful aggressors who intend to get to the West Bank and Gaza. With simultaneous events like the 'flotilla' and 'flightilla', Netanyahu has taken actions to prevent these huge disruptions and the misleading publicity that participants hope to achieve. He has "ordered all agencies to act with determination to prevent provocations, and also to try and prevent unnecessary confrontations. Every state has the right to prevent entry to provocateurs and to those who aim to disrupt public order."
How fortunate it would be for our government if groups of anti-Western activists who were hell bent on getting into the US would just announce their planned arrival, instead of entering surreptitiously. I would like to believe that the Obama Administration would act accordingly to stop their infiltration, instead of making a politically correct argument that it is not the democratic thing to do.